Fundamental and non-Fundamental Doctrines (§ 1).

The Fundamental Doctrines Defined Negatively (§ 2).

The Fundamental Doctrines Defined Positively (§ 3).

Late Schools and Theories (§ 4).


1. Fundamental and non-Fundamental Doctrines. The distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental doctrines of Christianity is useful, since, by emphasizing the great cardinal articles of the Christian faith, it promotes the union of the various parts of the Christian Church and develops a spirit of tolerance with regard to the articles of lesser importance in which they disagree. The Roman Catholic Church rejects the distinction (cf. KL, article " Dogma," iii. 1879-86) on the ground that it resolves doctrines into essential or necessary, and unessential or incidental. Nevertheless the Church recognizes a distinction in the relative importance of its doctrines. Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent distinguish concerning the relative value of the sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist (the "crown of the sacraments") being the "major sacraments." Although the distinction is not universally made by Protestant theologians, it early came into use. N. Hunnius was the first to use it in the Lutheran Church in his De fundarentali dissensu docirinœ Lutherαnœ et Calvinianœ (Wittenberg, 1626). He was followed by Quenstädt and others, and more recently by F. A. Philippi (Glaubenslehre, í. 73 sqq., Gütersloh, 1854), who, starting from the atonement as the constitutive principle, defines as fundamental all articles which necessarily follow from it.


The distinction was urged by the younger Turretin (d. 1737), and in England by Chillingworth (d. 1644), Stillingfleet (d. 1699), Waterland (d. 1740), and others in the interest of ecclesiastical toleration; before this, Francis Bacon, in his Advancement of Learning, had insisted upon distinguishing between "points fundamental" and "points of further perfection." The Parliament of 1653 voted indulgence to all who professed the "Fundamentals," and appointed a commission, consisting of Archbishop Ussher (who resigned, his place being filled by Baxter), Owen, Goodwin, and others, to define what the "Fundamentals" were. Baxter was for holding to the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. But the commission drew up sixteen articles which were presented to Parliament, and only missed ratification by its dissolution in 1653 (cf. Neal's History of the Puritans, ii., 143-144, New York, 1863). The varying importance of the doctrines of the Christian system and the growing tolerance of later times have produced the conviction that it is desirable to emphasize the more important articles. The Evangelical Alliance, on the assumption that agreement in fundamentals is a sufficient foundation for Catholic communion, has adopted a constitution of nine articles, which are regarded as essentials of Christian union (see EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE).


2. The Fundamental Doctrines Defined Negatively. The distinction of fundamentals and non-fundamentals is based upon the valid assumption that some articles are of greater importance than others. It is justified by the example of Paul in his teaching against the Judaizíng tendencies of his time. The following distinctions may be helpful in defining the term: Fundamental when applied to articles does not imply that they are the only articles which it is expedient or desirable for a Church to teach, and the individual to believe. The apostasy of the angels, the eternal duration of future punishment, the single or double prοcessiοn of the Holy Spirit (the filioque clause being rejected by the Greek Church; see FILIOQUE CONTROVERSY), may all be Scriptural doctrines, and ought to be believed, but are not fundamental doctrines of Christianity (although some would so consider the endlessness of future punishment).


The fundamental doctrines of Christianity are not to be confused with the distinctive tenets of a denomination. Denominational differences may and often do embody the truth; but the mode of baptism, for example, or the particular theory of the decrees (however valuable a right view on this subject may be as a constructive principle in dogmatic theology), or a special form of ecclesiastical polity, can not be regarded as fundamental. Christianity might not do so well with one class of opinions on these subjects (say, baptism by sprinkling, supralapsarianism, and the congregational principle of church government) as it would with another; but it would still remain radically unchanged, and continue to exert its beneficent influence.


The fundamental doctrines of Christianity are not synonymous with the doctrines essential to salvation. The latter depend upon the answer of the individual to two questions--"What think ye of Christ?" and "What must I do to be saved?" A living faith in Christ as the one sent of God for the salvation of the world is essential to salvation, and sufficient for it (John ví. 47; Acts xvi. 31). The fundamental doctrines of Christianity are broader in their scope. They concern it as an objective system of truth.


The term fundamental is not properly applied to doctrines which distinguish Christianity from natural religion. There is a distinction between the fundamentals of religion and the fundamentals of Christianity. Religion is possible on the basis of the Five Articles of Lord Herbert of Cherbury; but the superstructure of the Christian religion has a different foundation. Some of the tenets which Christianity has in common with natural religion, as the existence of God, are fundamental to the former.


The Apostles' Creed, though a venerable and excellent summary of the Christian's faith, is not a perfect statement of the fundamental articles of Christianity. On the one hand, it brings out only by implication the doctrine of atonement, passes over entirely the Scriptures, and, on the other, as Waterland puts it, is "peccant in excess."


3. The Fundamental Doctrines Defined Positively. The fundamental doctrines of Christianity, then, are those which lie at the basis of the Christian system, and without which its professed aim (the glory of God and the highest welfare of man) could not, by logical necessity and with subjective certainty, be evolved. Waterland's definition is as follows: "Fundamental, as applied to Christianity, means some thing so necessary to its being, or at least its well-being, that it could not subsist, or maintain itself tolerably, without it " (vol. v., p. 74). And again: "Whatever verities are found to be plainly and directly essential to the doctrine of the Gospel covenant are fundamental" (p. 103). According to Sherlock (p. 256), they are doctrines "which are of the essence of Christianity, and without which the whole building and superstructure must fall."


The most fundamental doctrine of Christianity is salvation by Christ; and the principle will hold good that whatever doctrine stands in most necessary connection therewith is the most fundamental. The statement in Rom. i. 1-6 (the divine existence, Scriptures, incarnation, grace, faith, and resurrection) approaches nearest of any passage in Scripture to a comprehensive enumeration of the fundamental doctrines. Waterland enumerated seven, as follows: (1) The Creator, or Covenanter; (2) covenant; (3) charter of the covenant, or Sacred Writ; (4) mediator; (5) repentance and a holy life; (6) sacraments; (7) two future states. The central principle from which he started was the Christian covenant. The sacraments, however, can hardly be regarded as a fundamental. The following statement is preferable: (1) The Fatherhood of God; (2) the Trinity; (3) the incarnation; (4) atonement; (5) faith or union with Christ, the condition of man's best being; (6) the immortality of the soul; (7) the Scriptures the summary of the divine purposes concerning man.


In defining what is fundamental in Christianity, it is as desirable to avoid a narrow as to avoid a latitudinarian tendency. Certain communions insist upon regarding episcopacy and the authority of the Church as fundamental. Individuals might insist upon particular views of original sin, the divine decrees, the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the duration and nature of future punishment. But few of these are touched upon in the Apostles' Creed, and none definitely answered. Divergence of view on these points is of inconsiderable importance in comparison with the cardinal doctrines of God's existence, the Messiah's work, saving faith, the soul's immortality, and the sufficiency of Scripture for human illumination and guidance, and can not limit the perpetuity of Christianity. It is, however, not to be forgotten that a Church may profess these fundamental doctrines, and yet so combine fundamental errors as to modify, if not completely to destroy, their force. Of such errors, as held in the Roman Catholic Church, Sherlock says (p. 314) that "all the wit of man can not reconcile them with the Christian faith." On the other hand, a religious communion (as the strict Unitarians or Universalists, may deny fundamental truths, and yet sincerely accept Christianity as the only and perfect religion. and Christ as the Lord and Savior.


4. Late Schools and Theories. The views of the school of advanced New Testament criticism represented in varying degrees of positiveness by different scholars from Harnack to Paul Wernle of Basel (Die Anfänge unserer Rcligion, Tübíngen, 1904) attempt to retain the Christian religion as the final religion and Christ as "the great Deliverer” from the bondage of legalism in religious ritual and doctrine, and at the same time cast aside some of the evident teachings of the books of the New Testament, such as the bodily resurrection of our Lord and those doctrines which it is claimed Paul invented by a process of reflection, such as the vicarious atonement through Christ's death. It would seem as if there could be no terms of agreement between this school and the received views of the Church. For what is fundamental in the views of the Church is in part completely set aside if the distinctive theology of the Pauline epistles is without warrant in fact and only a product of the Apostle's own brain.


Prof. Alfred Seeberg of Dorpat, in his Katechismus der Urchristenheit (Leipsíc, 1903), has attempted to arrange the articles of a supposed primitive catechism of fundamental tenets, which, he thinks, it was the custom to carry or send to new churches for their adoption. He bases the existence of such a formula upon Rom. vi. 17 ("that form of doctrine which was delivered you"), II Thess. ii. 15, and other passages, and reconstructs it on the basis of I Cor. xv. 3-5 and other Pauline statements. He includes in it a belief in the divine mission of the Son of God, his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. This formula became the nucleus of the Apostles' Creed and was the kernel of apostolic preaching. The treatment is suggestive and points to the fact that in the pages of the New Testament as they have been preserved there is a distinctive set of tenets which were new when they were proclaimed and composed the early Christian teaching.


An indirect attempt to define what is fundamental in the Christian system was made in the so-called Chicago-Lambeth Articles, adopted first by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Chicago, 1886, and then by the Lambeth Conference in 1888 (see LEMBETH CONFERENCE). They were intended as an invitation to church union and a basis for it, but were officially rejected by the Presbyterian General Assembly in the United States and were unfavorably received by other bodies. The fundamentals of the Articles (called the "Quadrilateral" because four in number) were: "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith; the Apostles' Creed, as the baptismal symbol, and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith; the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself--baptism and the Supper of the Lord--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by him; the historic episcopate locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church."